How many of us remember our college or high school homecoming queens? What were they like?
Maybe it was you. In high school and college, I was a part of the homecoming court, but did not run for Homecoming Queen. Rejection at any age, but especially a young age is difficult and maybe I or you didn’t run because of fear. I know that was part of it for me and the other part was because of the responsibilities of the University Homecoming Queen. She was to represent the entire student body by demonstrating a commitment to excellence in academics and extracurricular activities. She was also to be self-less, an example of campus involvement and service to the community. Some might say her leadership qualities, spirit, integrity, and achievements should leave the campus better than when she arrived 4 years prior.
A few days ago, I saw a young woman on a photograph and just by looking at her I knew instantly she embodied the qualities above. I reached out to her and her family via social media to complete an interview. Simone, the busy college student and Homecoming queen graciously accommodated my requests.
Simone attends William Jewell College (WJC). WJC was established in 1849. It is a small college of about 1100 students and only about 60 students are African-American. WJC is in a small town of about 40,000 just outside of Kansas City. WJC College prides itself on offering an education that cultivates leadership, service, and spiritual growth. WJC has an outstanding placement rate after graduation; 99% of students within 6 months are employed or are in graduate school.
I can see why a woman of her caliber would choose William Jewell College.
I am sure by now, you have thought about what your Homecoming Queen was like and I hope you will share in the comments, but for now let’s learn about Simone.
Behind the Crown of William Jewell’s 3rd African American Homecoming Queen
Name: Simone Houston Stewart
Hometown: Liberty, MO
University: William Jewell College
Major: Double major in Physics and Spanish and a math minor. She will be heading to graduate school to get a chemical/environmental/energy degree after graduation.
Describe your road to the crown, include positive and negative experiences. Challenges that you overcame:
Winning homecoming queen at William Jewell is probably unlike homecoming queen experiences at larger universities that take the idea more seriously. Every year there is a nomination from each sorority and the independents who compete for the crown. The entire school votes via an online survey and the winner is the girl with the most votes. I was the nomination for my sorority Zeta Tau Alpha. The girls were asked to pick a sister who would be a good representative and who was involved in campus and I was the one selected. Running for homecoming queen didn’t require me to hand out fliers; it’s treated as something the students pick rather than a campaigning opportunity. Because of this I would say my experience was overwhelmingly positive. I wasn’t fighting for it; rather I saw it as acknowledgement of my involvement and broad social circles.
Did you have to run against any friends? If so, what was that like?:
I was actually talking to another nominee from another sorority right before we walked out on the track and we both agreed that this year’s homecoming court was one of our favorites since we came to college. We were proud of all the people who had been nominated and felt like we would’ve been proud of anyone who won, even if it wasn’t us. I knew most of the other girls I ran against but because we don’t campaign at Jewell, it didn’t really feel like a competition, it felt a little akin to getting picked first for a sports team.
Advice to aspiring queens:
It may not sound like good advice but I would say don’t aspire to be a queen. Aspire to be yourself, and be the best you that you can possibly be. Aspire to try hard in school, to find things you love and do them, to be kind and good to others because that’s the way you want to be. Make more than just surface level relationships and how to make hard decisions. Thank people constantly for what they do for you, whether it’s believing in you, or sacrificing for you. I think it is because of all of those things that I ended up being chosen by my peers to be homecoming queen, not because I was the girl who desired it. When I found out I was nominated I did want to win of course, but my desire to win wasn’t what made my peers select me, it was because I had taken many prior opportunities to prove to them that “you can be a good person and friend and not have a crown at all”.
What is unique about you?:
I think this is a very difficult question! I would say that others would think I’m special because of my personality or my humor. Those aren’t quite things that make me unique, but they are things about me no one else has!
Have you traveled out of the country? If so, please describe your experience:
I’ve traveled out of the country a total of 4 times to 9 countries. The first two times I was a high schooler and the second two times were for project with my college physics department. The experiences, though very different, have all been a really influential part of my life. I love exploring the commonalities between myself and the people I meet on my journeys abroad. My two most recent travels with the physics department have both been to developing nations: Haiti and Guatemala. Those were very amazing and precious experiences I’ve had and opportunities to explore the world of physics and engineering abroad.
Note: All of the pictures below are from her trip to San Martin, Guatemala this past summer.
Are you the first African American to receive the crown at your University?:
If so, how do you feel about that?:
I am not sure but there have been a few people who have mentioned that I may not be the first black homecoming queen, she may have won in the 70s. But I know that there have not been many. That being said I felt support from the small black community Jewell does have. As an active member of the Black Student Association for several years here at Jewell, I know that blacks on campus struggle often with representation and feeling like their voice is important and heard on campus. I just hope that I can let them know that I am an advocate, as well as let our predominantly white students know that we are present and active on campus. I also think that it is another opportunity for me to say that as a black homecoming queen, I am not an exception to the rule of blackness, I refuse to be the blackness that the majority white population deems “acceptable” but that the black students of all kinds matter.
Note: Simone is the 3rd African-American woman to receive the crown in William Jewel’s 166 years in existence. The last African American won in 2006.
How do you plan to defy the odds, overcome challenges in life in the future?:
I think that Jewell has prepared me well for the future, not that this means I won’t face challenges, but I think I will know how to handle them well. I think that I’ve been given some amazing opportunities for someone who is only 21, and I will continue to seek out these opportunities in the future. I’ve learned to take things one step at a time and be thankful for every day along the way. Accepting that sometimes things will fail or the best outcome won’t always prevail has been hard, but something I’m getting better at every day.
Describe your future-life after the crown?:
My future life will go back to how it was before. I will attend classes, tutor Spanish, go to club and sorority meetings, drink too much coffee and spend too much time on social media. I’ll just have a tiara while I do it. I think the one thing that will be different will be that those pictures and memories will be a part of my university’s history forever, and who knows; maybe my future relative will look back through all of the photos and find that day I won.
If you could change one thing about this entire experience what would you change?
I wouldn’t change it, except for maybe splitting the crown up with all the other wonderful girls who were nominated alongside me. That or remembering to shave my underarms so that I could wave more vigorously once the time came.
And that says it all, what an honor to be able to hear first hand from this wise and giving young woman. We all wish her much success! Thank you Simone and family because we know without the guidance of loving parents she wouldn’t be the young woman she is today!
A couple Queens that came before her:
2003 Homecoming Queen Runner Up Candice Lauren Maynard: http://www.jewell.edu/gen/media/achieve/summer2005/reachingStars.html
2006 Homecoming Queen Tara Seals
All photos courtesy of William Jewell and Simone Stewart.